better and far more timeless Lovecraft TV adaptation premiered
December 8, 1971 on NIGHT GALLERY. It is Rod Serling's reworking
of Cool Air, directed by Jeannot Szwarc and produced by Jack
Potentially much easier to adapt than Pickman's Model,
Serling's screenplay nonetheless totally reformats the story,
presumably to make it more TV-worthy and to give it greater
depth. The results are satisfying, but definitely not pure
As in Lovecraft's version, Serling uses the first person
narrator with occasional voice-overs throughout the segment.
But Serling's narrator tells the story in a manner that would
have been impossible for Lovecraft: not only does Serling
introduce a female character (a shunned species Lovecraft
most probably perceived as alien), but he also makes this
female the segment's narrator!
And Serling goes further still by adapting Cool Air as a
kind of love story, with strong suggestions of necrophelia
at the end.
segment begins in a Gothic setting: a cemetery in the fall
of the year. Subjective camera makes its way toward a gravestone
while the voice of an elderly woman reminisces. She explains
that she visits this grave every year, and has done so for
the last fifty years.
We then flashback, and the story unfolds.
Instead of a chance meeting of strangers, as in HPL's original,
Serling's narrator, Agatha (Barbara Rush), seeks out Dr. Munos
(Henry Darrow). She has come to tell him that her father,
Munos's friend by correspondence, is dead. Why she elects
to tell him in person rather than by mail is never exactly
Apparently she had expected Dr. Munos to be elderly and infirm.
She seems pleased to find he is cultured, brilliant and handsome.
Perhaps he's a bit eccentric, too, because he keeps his rooms
cooled to 55 degrees with a primitive generator-powered refrigeration
The period set (circa 1920s), costumes, and the clunky but
charming piece of antique air-conditioning equipment are atmospherically
reminiscent of the Hammer horror films of the 50s and 60s.
Spanish guitar is the unlikely, though strangely appropriate
Agatha tells Dr. Munos that she has read all his letters
to her father and has become fascinated with his theories
about overcoming death through a mystical application of will
As conversation proceeds, Munos explains that ten yearsago,
just before his wife died, he contracted a rare disease. Part
of his treatment is that he must stay cold and he may never
leave his apartment.
Nonetheless he seems a refined, gentle man and Agatha aggressively
inveigles an invitation to dinner in his rooms. (Cold cuts,
During dinner and in subsequent meetings they become fond
of each other. Then tragedy strikes when Agatha arrives one
hot summer day and Munos refuses to admit her, saying he is
not feeling well. On the way out the landlady detains Agatha
to ask about the doctor. She tells Agatha that the only person
who has seen Munos in the last week was a repairman who came
to work on the refrigeration system. "Well, that repairman
came down the steps four at a time and he nearly took the
door with him when he went." She says she'd never seen anyone
so scared and she's sure it has something to do with the doctor.
(Think that's too melodramatic? Here's how Lovecraft did
the same scene: "One September day an unexpected glimpse of
(Munos) induced an epileptic fit in a man who had come to
repair (Munos's) electric desk lamp.")
In the middle of the night a phone call wakes Agatha. It's
Munos, begging her to come in a hurry. He needs help.
She arrives during a wicked thunderstorm. The electricity
is out and the air conditioner is broken. Munos appears behind
his partially open door. He's wearing an eerie white cloak
that covers everything but his right eye. He still won't admit
Agatha but tells her to get a mechanic quickly; the temperature
in his room is rising dangerously. He is uncharacteristically
desperate, almost in a panic. He says the machine must be
fixed tonight; morning will be too late!
In a contrived bit of plotting, it just so happens that,
unbeknownst to Munos, a mechanic lives in the apartment below
his. The tradesman reluctantly agrees to check the machine.
He finds the pump arm is damaged and can't be replaced until
the supplier opens in the morning.
Munos, still shrouded, asks Agatha to get him lots of ice.
He then locks himself in the bathroom where he tries to maintain
a low temperature in cold baths, adding blocks of ice as they're
Agatha is forced to talk with Munos through the locked bathroom
door. She can't see what's happening to him and neither can
the viewer. Agatha pounds on the door, begging Munos to let
her see him.
"That would be very unwise," he tells her. "I've changed
considerably in the past few hours."
What follows is a long, well acted monologue. With the camera
never leaving Agatha's face, Munos tells his whole story through
the closed door. We never see him, just hear his voice and
watch Rush react.
The camera repositions inside the bathroom. Munos is at the
door, mirroring Agatha's position on the other side. We see
Munos from the back, completely hidden by his ghostly white
shroud as he says, "My wife committed suicide because she
could no longer stand living with a corpse."
Now back to Agatha as Munos invisibly continues, finally
articulating his feelings for her, "You see my darling, I
died that time ten years ago."
We hear him slump to the floor.
Agatha forces the door open to find Munos's staring, withered,
We cut from the corpse (and Agatha's scream) back to the
present, the subjective camera, the graveyard and the elderly
Agatha's voice. "Each year I visit his grave and I wonder
if I'm mourning something that was, or something that might
have been. But I won't ponder the question. What might have
been embraces elements of horror that could drive me insane."
As the monologue continues the subjective camera gets closer
and closer to a gravestone which reads "Dr. Juan Munos," the
rest of the inscription is obscured by fallen leaves. A timely
autumn wind blows the leaves away and we see the rest of what's
|DR. JUAN MUNOS
Died 1913 and 1923
Lovecraft's Cool Air is a one-shock story built upon the
grisly notion that sheer force of will can animate a corpse.
It is typical of Lovecraft's minor efforts, and like many
of his stories, it is predictable right down to the italics
at the end: "... for you see I died that time eighteen years
Although he uses Lovecraft's grim idea, Serling's telling
is much more ambitious. The introduction of the love story
and the narrow escape from almost inevitable necrophelia were
Unlike Lovecraft's Munoz, who causes a feeling of repugnance,
Serling's Munos is fascinating and desirable. The viewer can
understand why Agatha likes him as the viewer comes to care
about him, too. This "bonding" makes the tale not only chilling,
it also allows pathos.
In fact, because we come to like both the characters, the
viewer experiences far more revulsion from the implications
of necrophelia than from the predictable sight of Munos's
It is a fine adaptation of the unadaptable, cheapened only
by some lazy plotting and by the too cute inscription on the
Interestingly, the structure of the two tales is similar.
Like Lovecraft, Serling uses a lot of first person exposition,
but the words are entirely his own; he has lifted nothing
from the source material. Stylistically speaking, that was
probably inspired, too.